Race Review – Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones 2017

Wow. Race to the Stones. I’d been looking forward to this one for so long and it didn’t disappoint! This is quite a long post, but lots of people have asked me questions about RTTS because they’re thinking of entering, so I don’t want to leave anything out. I’ve been interested in RTTS ever since I became aware of it two years ago. It’s a 100K ultra that starts in Lewknor in Berkshire and follows the Ridgeway path, finishing at the ancient stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. Some people do it in one day and some do it over two days, camping at the halfway point. Some run and some walk. I had no idea whether I could run 100K – if I could keep going for the amount of time that would take –  but I became a bit obssessed with it; the rolling hills, the Field of Dreams… it looked amazing! I took a charity place with Cancer Research UK, partly because it’s a great cause, but also because I thought I’d be more likely to keep going if people had sponsored me to do it. You can read about my training in previous posts. After all the months since I’d entered last December it was hard to believe the big day was finally happening!

Steve and I travelled down from Yorkshire the day before the event and stayed nearby at Stokenchurch, about five minutes’ drive from the start at Field Farm in Lewknor. There was a great chippy nearby, perfect for carb loading! I was too nervous/excited to sleep well and woke up at about 4am. I had a tin of rice pudding for breakfast and we headed to Lewknor at about 6.45. Participants were started in waves to ease congestion, and I was in the second one at 7.45. There were no queues at registration and hardly any at the portaloos. Unlike most ultras RTTS doesn’t have a mandatory kit list, so it’s up to you what you carry. The weather forecast was dry, but ominous grey clouds were looming, so I did take my rain jacket and hat. There was a great atmosphere at the start. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually about to attempt to run 62 miles, twice as far as I’d ever run before. I decided just to approach it as a big day out and take it one mile at a time. We set off on time in a blaze of coloured smoke!

The first couple of miles were pretty flat, which was a good warm up. But there are lots of hills! There were pit stops approximately every 10K on the course, and all were really well stocked with a wide variety of snacks and drinks. I’d only brought one emergency Clif Shotblok in my backpack and I didn’t even need that. There were High 5 gels and electrolyte or energy drinks at each stop too. When I arrived at each pit stop I had a cup of Coke and made a High 5 Zero drink to take with me, because it was a warm day and I wanted to minimise the chance of getting cramp. I had in mind Nicky Spinks‘ advice on ultra eating, which is to eat lots and start early, so at Pit Stop 1 I had half a banana and took a Perkier quinoa bar to eat on the move. I’d heard many tales of how it gets harder to eat as time goes on, so I made an effort. I had various snacks along the way, including Mini Cheddars and chocolate, but I found that crisps, Perkier bars and Jelly Babies worked best for me. My strategy was to eat something whenever I was walking uphill.

The weather forecast turned out to be wrong and it actually rained quite a bit in the first half. I put my hat on but not my jacket, as it was really warm. The route flattened out a bit as we ran alongside the Thames for a while and also went through a couple of villages. People say that in ultras you go through good phases and bad ones, and that both pass. I felt great in the first quarter of RTTS, but towards the end of the first half I started to feel a bit nauseous. I think it was because I’d taken a couple of High 5 gels and they didn’t agree with me. But I focussed on the beautiful scenery and was grateful that my legs and feet felt fine; and I knew that Steve was waiting for me at the halfway point and that give me a boost. Just before halfway I also saw Shona from Run Mummy Run, who was out supporting, and she gave me hug even though I must have been very smelly, which was lovely!

I arrived at halfway after six and a half hours and couldn’t imagine how I was going to cover that distance again, almost certainly taking even longer. I saw a huge inflatable gantry with Finish on it, thought “But I’m not finishing yet” and ran around it, then had to be directed back through it to cross the halfway timing mat! I took a break here of around ten minutes. You can actually have a proper hot meal at halfway, but I couldn’t face that and certainly didn’t want it jiggling around in my belly throughout the second half. To be honest I didn’t really want to eat anything. There was a huge table of cakes (one of the event sponsors is Ministry of Cake), which I would normally have been all over, but I just didn’t fancy any of them, even though there was carrot cake, my favourite! But Steve told me (quite rightly) that if I didn’t eat something I’d bonk and practically forced me to eat a slice of Victoria sponge, which I actually think did me a lot of good. I also changed my top and socks, which had become a bit damp with the rain. I set off feeling refreshed, more optimistic and no longer nauseous.

After the halfway stop I felt good for quite a long time. I’m not saying it was easy by any means, but it was less hard than I’d imagined for about 20 miles. At mile 36 my Garmin bleeped and I thought “Only a marathon to go now” and then laughed because that seemed so ridiculous! I mentioned it to another runner and we both wondered how, over the course of a few years, we’d both gone from doing a bit of jogging for weight loss to running 100K for ‘fun’. It is bizarre really. Anyway, it seemed to me that there were more short, steep hills in the first half and more gradual inclines and tough terrain in the second half. A lot of the Ridgeway consists of hard, stony path that’s very harsh on the feet and more likely to cause underfoot problems than softer trail. Gentler inclines may seem easier on the face of it, but whereas you’d walk a steep climb you’re more likely to run a gentle one, which becomes quite energy-sapping after a long time.

At around 52 miles I was finding it hard to eat again. I took a mouthful of a peanut butter sandwich at a pit stop, just to have a change from crisps, but found it so hard to chew and swallow I had to bin the rest. And I love peanut butter! The going seemed to get a lot tougher after this point. I kept telling myself “It’s only ten miles now, only nine miles now, single figures now!”, but it became more and more a case of run/walk. At times, even though I wasn’t going uphill, I just had to take little walk breaks. A friend of mine who’s an Ironman had advised me to try and enjoy the whole thing, even the tough bits, and I did my best. When I got to the final pit stop I looked at the food and felt that all I could manage was a biscuit. I sighed and set off to cover the last eight miles. I rang Steve to let him know I was on the last leg, as we’d arranged. He was having his dinner in a pub and I so wished I was with him! It was 8pm by now. I knew this was the time I had to dig really deep. I reached into my Camelbak and got out my CRUK wristband. I put it on to remind myself of why I was really doing this and thought about all the lovely family and friends who’d generously donated to my fund or had been affected by cancer. The last few miles were definitely for them. The hills continued mercilessly for about the next five miles. On the plus side, the scenery was quite spectacular at this point. At around 95K my Garmin died so I had no further idea of time or pace. I was in the Twilight Zone. And then I binned it! I’m not sure how, but I managed to trip on one of the stones poking up through the path. In a split second I thought to myself “If I go down on this rocky bit now, this could be it. It could all be over so close to the end. I’m not having that”! I’ve no idea how, but I managed to launch myself onto the grassy verge at the side of the path for a soft landing. My left calf cramped up as I did so, but at least I wasn’t injured. A couple of other lovely runners stopped to see if I was OK and luckily I was. A bit of a stretch and I was off again.

Those last three miles were so hard. At that point I really wanted it to be over. It’s actually mostly downhill near the end, but the irony is that the path is like a really rutted cart track so you can hardly find a good line to run down. At least it was still light at this point – I can imagine it would be even harder in the dark. I told myself “It’s only a Parkrun now” but when you’ve been on the go for over 12 hours it’s a big ask. I felt like I might be getting a blister but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it as the end was so close. Then you take a right turn and see the lights of the finishing area in the distance – yay! But, as a final cruel twist, when you run into Avebury village and through the stones, you haven’t actually finished – you have to run about another mile back the way you’ve just come, across a field and down another road to the end! I’d really had enough at that point. “Christ” said a man I was running near, “Nobody said it was Race to the Stones and back again”! I had to laugh, despite everything. I walked part of the field, but just managed to summon up my last bit of energy to trot down the road to the finish. It was a great welcome though; lots of people cheering, pumping music, and I could see Steve waiting as I approached. And suddenly it was all over! Someone hung a medal round my neck, someone else took a photo and the job was done. I was so happy just to stop moving forward.

 

The finish area was great. There was plenty of hot food and a place to sit. I still couldn’t really eat though. I took a sausage in a bun, but could only manage the sausage. I can’t believe I couldn’t even eat a doughnut! I went to get a printout of my results and my chip time was 13:36:21. I’d come 275th out of 961 overall, 48th woman and third in the V50 age category. That surprised me, as I’d felt pretty slow most of the time! I felt a bit dazed to be honest. It was dark by the time we left and we could see a procession of head torches up on the hill. It was only as I lay in the bath a bit later that it began to sink in that I’d covered 62 miles on my own two feet. It hurt (and it would hurt even more the next day!), but it was worth it – and, even better, donations were still coming in. I was a very tired but happy bunny.

So, would I do it again? Probably not, but only because it’s so far from Yorkshire. However, I would definitely recommend RTTS, especially as a first 100K, because it’s so well supported. Organisation and logistics are great. There are shuttles between the start and finish, and the halfway camp looked like a lovely spot to chill for the evening. Also, everyone is really friendly and helpful. At the last pit stop somebody even took my water bottle and filled it for me. I got the impression the people there were having a good look at everyone to make sure they were OK. I was asked at several pit stops how I felt. Everyone was fantastic. Although I did think playing Jump Around by House of Pain at one pit stop was taking the Mickey a bit! The countryside is fantastic, with amazing views throughout and the free photos that upload automatically to Facebook are a real bonus. If you’re wondering whether or not to do it, I’d say go for it. It’s amazing what you can pull out of the bag when you have to! Below is a geeky bit about kit etc for anyone who’s interested. If you have any questions about RTTS please feel free to give me a shout.

If anyone would like to donate to my CRUK Just Giving page it’s still here. Every little helps! 🙂

 

The Kit Bit

Shoes:  Inov8 Trail Talons. Cannot praise these highly enough. They are specially designed for hard trails and performed really well. They were recommended for me by Stuart at Accelerate in Sheffield, to whom I am very grateful. I did have one small blister on my right big toe, but that’s all. Toenails all present and correct as I type!

Socks:  Inov8 All Terrain. It was well worth changing them at half time.

Shorts:  Ronhill Aspiration Twin Shorts. So comfy! No chafing at all despite much sweating!

Tops:  Ronhill and Saucony sleeveless tops. I’ve had them so long I can’t remember what they’re called!

Bra:  Moving Comfort. I put a bit of K tape under my front strap as a precaution.

Backpack:  Camelbak Marathoner. I took out the bladder and put stuff in the space. It’s amazing how much you can get in there if you pack it carefully, and not a hint of chafing over the whole day. For drink I used my Camelbak soft bottle in my front pocket.

Waterproof:  Inov8 Race Ultra Shell. This is the most expensive but least used item of clothing I own apart from my wedding dress!

Head torch:  Petzl. Steve had bought this for me and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t used it!

Watch:  Garmin Forerunner 35. I replaced my ancient 210 with this just a couple of weeks ago and it has a much longer life – it died at about 12:30.

Hat:  a Brooks sun hat I bought in a sale ages ago, but it did pretty well in the rain.

I also carried (but didn’t use) Saucony arm warmers, Compeed, a couple of strips of K tape, a tenner (just in case!), spare socks, spare top, ibuprofen and a spare hair elastic.

THE END!

 

Race to the Stones Ready?

As I post this, the Race to the Stones 100K is now only a couple of days away. I’ve had this event on my mind since I first became aware of it two years ago and thought it looked amazing. When entry opened late last year I decided to take the plunge and give it a go. It’s more than twice as far as I’ve ever run before and I’ve spent the last six months running as many trails and climbing as many hills as possible to prepare – most recently the Hardmoors Wainstones Half. I actually can’t quite believe Race to the Stones is nearly here!

The Wainstones Half

 

Our recent holiday in the Pyrenees, when the OH did the Ariégeoise cyclosportive, was a great opportunity to do some hill training, and I got out there as often as I could. It was hot, hard work, but I hope the effort will stand me in good stead for Saturday! Running in the mountains was fantastic, something I’d love to do more of. I met a lovely woman there who runs a trail running B&B with her husband and thought what a fabulous lifestyle that must be. Enough fantasising already!

 

My fundraising for Cancer Reasearch UK has gone pretty well – I’m now well over the £500 mark and think there’s still a bit more to come in. Thinking of all the lovely family and friends who have supported me will be a great motivator when things get tough on Saturday – which I’m sure they will. I’ve been holding a competition in the office for people to guess my finishing time, and these have varied from 10 hours (in my dreams!) to 19 hours. Hopefully I’ll be somewhere in between!

To be honest I’ve found it pretty hard to think about anything else this week, despite being at work. I’ve made lists of things to pack and carry with me and bought a special squashy drinking bottle with a tube for my Camelbak. I’ve been obsessively checking the weather forecast (obviously) and it looks pretty good at the moment – cloudy but no rain. My legs feel OK at the moment; my dodgy hamstring is behaving, although it could easily kick off on the day. I’m trying not to stress, but just look upon the event as a good day out and not worry too much about finishing time. I guess my main aim is just to finish with a smile on my face! I feel a bit nervous, but not in a bad way. I just want to get on with it!

You can read about my personal reasons for running Race to the Stones for CRUK here and if you’d like to donate the link to my Just Giving page is here.

Good luck to anyone else taking part – come and say hi if you see me there!

Summer, Drinking and Training

Well it looks like summer’s finally arrived – and who doesn’t love summer? Light nights, warm sun, eating outdoors, running free in shorts and vest. All good stuff. But have you ever noticed that there’s something about summer that makes people drink more than usual? And I’m not talking about electrolytes! Booze just seems to be so tempting when the weather’s hot. An ice cold beer or a refreshing gin and tonic after work. Big pitchers of Pimms at all those barbecues. Chilled rosé for Wine Wednesday in the garden. Condensation forming on lovely cold glasses. It all just hits the spot. “Ooh no, it’s a school night. Oh go then, just one.” But one usually leads to another one. And I’m as tempted as anyone. Summer time and the drinking is easy! We all know drinking too much booze is bad for us, but we block out the facts about calories and sugar because booze makes us feel nice.

I used to drink much more than I do now. Then I started running and at some point – I’m not really sure when – training became more important than drinking. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a drink, but I cut down quite a bit. In fact, I became a bit of a lightweight. Sometimes I’d go out and not drink even though I wasn’t driving. Some people find this unbelievable! Friends started calling me ‘sensible’, by which I think they really meant ‘boring’. Then I made some other friends who felt the same as me, and they balanced out the other ones. Nowadays I usually have a couple of glasses of wine on a Sunday evening, when I’ve done my long run during the day. But if I am tempted on a lovely summer evening these are some of my coping strategies.

OK, sometimes only a real drink will do. So instead of opening a standard bottle of wine, when I’ll be tempted to drink about half of it, I’ve started to buy what I call Tiny Wine. My local supermarket sells a huge range of 187ml bottles, and if I have one of these I’ve only drunk one small glass of wine rather than half a bottle. If your local shops don’t stock Tiny Wine you can buy it online. I’ve recently discovered Premier Estates Wine, who do fantastic Tiny Fizzy Wine; you can buy a case of 12 for only £41.88 at the moment, and they’re really good.

 

Premier Estates also do big bottles of pink fizz that’s gorgeous, but that’s another story! And you can get cans of pre-mixed drink with spirits in, like gin and tonic, vodka and coke or even Pimms, which also make it easier to stick to just one.

 

A tip that really helps me – don’t keep white and rosé wine in the fridge. Nobody likes warm white or rosé, so if you have to wait for it to chill before you can drink it, the moment might have passed!

 

If you’re going to an event where you think you might feel a bit of a party pooper without a proper drink, make a very weak one and eek it out. You can make things like wine spritzers, Pimms or spirits with mixers so weak there’s hardly any booze in them. Not that you should feel you have to do this, but sometimes it’s just easier than having people constantly ask you why you aren’t drinking. Either that or nominate yourself as the designated driver, then you’re totally off the hook!

Sparkling water with ice and a slice is probably my top choice if I’m not drinking booze. I also like a ginger beer or an elderflower cordial with fizzy water. What I sometimes find is that when I get to a party where I’m not drinking I miss it at first, but then once I start chatting to people and enjoying myself I don’t even notice I’m not drinking. I also know I’ll feel clear-headed and have a much better run the next day, which is a massive incentive. Even if you don’t feel hung over, running is always more difficult the day after drinking. I guess for me it’s all about priorities. Occasionally I do have a big night out, but not very often, as it takes me too long to get over it these days! Being hung over also makes me want to eat everything the next day, which is not good. In the end it’s about balance and moderation, like most things.

I’d love to know other people’s thoughts on drinking and training. Make the most of the weekend, whatever you’re drinking – this might be it for summer until next year!

Race Review – Hardmoors Wainstones Half Marathon

I first heard about the Hardmoors events a couple of years ago when I started trail running, and to be honest I thought they sounded pretty scary. Just look at the name! Hard. Moors. Scary! I imagined wiry fell runners in vests and tiny shorts bounding up and down vicious hills like mountain goats. Not for the likes of me! But then a couple of friends assured me that they weren’t scary events at all; in fact they were very inclusive and varied in distance from 10K to ultra, so there was something for everyone. So when I started preparing for Race to the Stones I thought I’d give one a go for hill training purposes and entered the Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. I thought it would be a good dress rehearsal for the big day. However, when my dodgy hamstring started playing up after the London Marathon I decided to play it cautiously and downsized to the half marathon.

The Wainstones events (10K, half and full marathon) all start and finish at Chop Gate near Helmsley. The drive over there from York on a sunny Sunday morning was beautiful and I was really looking forward to it. There was plenty of parking and I wandered over to the village hall to sign on. The marathon runners had just set off at 9 am. Participants had to carry mandatory kit of a waterproof jacket, hat or buff, a route map and the means to carry 500ml of fluid. Everyone’s kit was duly checked before they were allowed to pick up their number. This was all very quick, so I had plenty of time to get ready and went to the loo about three times, just because I could! The weather was perfect – dry but not too warm. We set off on time at 10 am.

We’d run no more than about 100m when we came to a stile that everyone had to climb over, so that held things up quite a bit! “Never mind”, I thought, “It’s not a road race – time and pace don’t really matter”. After the stile we started to climb up a massive hill straight away and everyone slowed to a walk. The track was quite narrow and lots of people seemed happy to stroll up, chatting and taking photos as they went. This was a bit frustrating, as one of the things I’ve been practising is walking uphill as fast as I can, so I wished I’d placed myself a bit further up the field at the start! But I tried to chill and take it all in. We gained a lot of height in a short distance, and some people seemed to be struggling a bit even at this early stage. We eventually got to the top and the track widened out so we could start running. I clocked the first mile at around 25 minutes! The descent from the first hill was great, a gentle gritty trail that gave me some time to take in the amazing view.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing up another hill. In fact there were five hills in all, so not much flat on the course. It was tough going at times, with a couple of rocky, technical descents as well as testing uphill gradients, and it was really windy on the tops! One of the hills had the Wainstones themselves perched at the summit, through which we scrambled with a gale force wind blowing us along – great fun!

The route went along some of the Cleveland Way, which skirts the edge of the North York Moors and is paved in parts. The views were quite spectacular, but there wasn’t much time to take them in going downhill, as you had to be really careful where you placed your feet. The last thing I wanted was to sprain my ankle – or worse – so I was super cautious. I wished I was better at descending as I stood aside to let various people fly past me. I guess it takes practice! But I did notice that I passed quite a few people walking uphill, so I must be getting better at that.

I went through halfway in 1:37 and couldn’t help thinking that if this was a road half I’d be nearly finished – but I know I have to lose that kind of mentality on the trails. There were two checkpoints en route offering water, Pepsi, jelly babies, peanuts and Jaffa Cakes. I took a couple of Jaffa Cakes at each point and they went down really well. I’d brought a piece of homemade flapjack with me, but the Jaffa Cakes actually sat better on my stomach. We had to check in at each point, and I kind of liked the old-schoolness of a marshal shouting out people’s numbers as they approached. For the last few miles we were on moorland trails, which were quite boggy. I tried to keep my feet as dry as possible, but at about ten miles we had to go through a stream, so that was that! The last mile or so was a really nice descent back down to Cop Gate, finishing actually inside the village hall to give our numbers to the time keepers.

We received a really nice t-shirt and medal, and there were savoury snacks, cakes and drinks on offer. Cracking! I haven’t seen any official results yet, but I timed myself at about 3:12 (I think – I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished – possibly because I was distracted by the sight of cake!).

Just after I’d arrived back the first lady marathoner finished in what must have been about four and a half hours. This really impressed me, not least because the marathon course was actually 28 miles long! Apparently long courses are a Thing with Hardmoors events. That day’s 10K was actually ten miles(!), although the half was pretty close to normal at 13.2 miles. All in all it was fab event. People I’ve spoken to have all said they think Wainstones is the toughest of the Hardmoors courses – one described it as ‘brutal’! It was certainly very testing terrain, and my legs are still feeling it two days later; but it was great training for Race to the Stones. Hardmoors events do fill up quickly, so don’t delay entry if you fancy doing one. I’d really recommend it, and I’d definitely like to do more in future. Recovery fish and chips in Helmsley were a must on the way home!

 

This weekend I’m off on holiday to France for a fortnight, spending a week of that in the Pyrenees. Hopefully I’ll find some more great hilly trails to train on!

I’m running Race to the Stones in aid of Cancer Research UK. You can read why here. If you’d like to make a donation my Just Giving page is here.

 

 

Race to the Stones Training

Last time I wrote about training for Race to the Stones I was worried because I was a bit behind schedule. I’d had a hamstring niggle after the London Marathon that didn’t seem to be going away. I was also having a bit of pain from time to time in my right calf and felt like my high hamstring tendon problem might be coming back. But instead of panicking I decided to try a new physio and booked in to see Dave Baxter at Tadcaster Physiotherapy. I noticed on his website that Dave was an ultra runner himself, so felt he’d understand where I was coming from! I’ve seen Dave’s colleague Millie for sports massage before and always felt it’s done me good.

I had an initial assessment with Dave where we went through some range of motion exercises. He also popped me on his treadmill for a bit and had me doing lots of one-legged bridges on his couch! For some reason it appears my right hand side is weaker than the left, so Dave gave me some exercises to do at home to try and help with this. He used an app to film me doing them and emailed this to me, which was really useful. He also advised me to use hiking poles for the hills on my long run to give my legs a bit of support, which I did on my next Sunday outing along the Yorkshire Wolds Way.

I went back to see Dave two weeks later and felt that things had definitely improved in the meantime. I’ve done some long, hilly runs and felt OK afterwards, and also did some speed intervals for the first time in ages last week. On the last two weekends I’ve done back to back long runs and feel pretty much normal now – although getting hungrier than usual! I’m really glad I went to see Dave; apart from his physiotherapy he’s also a great source of ultra running advice, and suggested I get some shoes with more cushioning than my Inov-8 Trail Talons for covering 100K on hard trails. I’ve ordered some Altra Lone Peaks to see how they compare. Seeing Dave has really brought home to me the importance of doing strength work to support my running; something I’ve not been very good with in the past, but will definitely do more in the future.

I’ve been experimenting with different sorts of food in training recently. I find it quite hard to eat and run, but I know I’m going to have to eat some real food to get round Race to the Stones, so have tried various things over the past few weeks, including homemade flapjack, salty crackers and baby food pouches! Flapjack seems OK if I chew it really well; I thought salty snacks might be good if it’s a hot day; the fruity baby food was nice, but I’d have to eat (and so carry) quite a lot to get enough carbs. The best thing I tried was a Tribe Infinity bar, which I got in a sample box I ordered a while ago. When I opened it I thought it looked like MDF and was a bit dubious, but it tasted fine and (most importantly) was really easy to eat and sat well in the belly. I think I’ll have to order some more of those!

Training on the Cleveland Way

It’s now less than six weeks until Race to the Stones (eek!). I’ve just started a three week period of what’s called ‘Peak’ training on the plan, followed by a three week taper. This weekend I’m taking part in my first ever Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half. I’ve fancied trying one of these events, held on the North York Moors, for ages, and thought this would be a good training exercise. Then we’re off on holiday to the Pyrenees at the end of next week, where the OH is taking part in the Ariégeoise cyclosportive and I’m hoping to be able to take to the mountainous trails to get some good training done. I’m already finding hills a lot easier than I used to, so hopefully those French mountains will make my legs even stronger. Also: I’ll need to work off all the fabulous French pastries, cheese and wine!

I’m running Race to the Stones for Cancer Research UK. You can read why here and if you’d like to make a donation my Just Giving page is here.